Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Women I Love: Martina and Chris

Please tell me that you've all seen at least one "30 For 30" on ESPN. I don't want to hear that you're not a sports fan, or that you hate documentaries, or that you never watch ESPN. I don't want to hear it, because this documentary series celebrating ESPN's 30 years on the air is the best thing on television right now. (And yes, I say that knowing full well how many groundbreaking scripted dramas and comedies are currently on the air.) Like all my favorite sports-based art, the series either leaps outside or steps back inside with each story. For one story "30 For 30" will shrink inside of the news, peering within and poking under the bed of the story. Then with the next, it will expand to take note of the societal, cultural, and political undercurrents of that single moment in sports. That Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City is my favorite book about sports is a telling indication of why I love "30 For 30" so much. It's the book I wish I wrote, following the threads of change and the currency of place and politics that run through it all.

Take "30 For 30"s piece on Allen Iverson, for instance, which tells the tale of an infamous player, but does so in the contentious context of where he came from, which colors everything differently. (Freckled Citizen Trivia of the Day: my mom grew up in the same apartment complex Iverson did in Newport News, VA.) Or how about The U, digging into the cult of the University of Miami football team in the '80s, in all its coke-white splendor. Or June 17, 1994, which in brilliant - brilliant, I tell you - pacing, shows us just how many sports stories were unfolding during the the OJ chase, all in live action. I could keep going. I could bore you with my Sox pride again, I could tear up about the poignancy of Vlade Divac, I could talk about the brilliance of paralleling Tupac with Tyson, or I could simply geek out. What I'm getting at here is that there is a "30 For 30" for everyone. There is a "30 For 30" for you.

Last night I finally got around to a "30 For 30" I'd been saving for just the right moment: "Unmatched." The film explores the relationship of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, from what they call the greatest rivalry in sports, to their enduring friendship today. It's a remarkable piece about the strain of rivalry, the bonds of friendship, and most of all, about respect. Watch:

Martina and Chris grew up together. They practiced together before matches, even during the heat of their rivalry. They loved and hated one another. For fourteen years of women's tennis, one of the two of them was #1 in the world. The rankings shifted, but their bond did not. They were each other's biggest ally and biggest defender, even though their careers would have profited enormously had the other failed.

These women are an absolute delight to watch and to listen to, each remembering in many cases the triumphs and details of the other's career before they do their own. We learn about life off the court, too - how Chris accompanied Martina back to her hometown after she defected, watching for the communist leaders to applaud the hometown hero. We learn that Martina introduced Chris to her second husband, and wore a dress to their wedding. We learn that Chris defended Martina's sexuality at a time when no one else would do so, and that Martina would correct reporters who brushed off Chris as "America's sweetheart" by calling her the toughest woman in tennis.

There are few people in life you can call in the middle of the night and say that you need them. Martina and Chris are that person for one another. They're each other's rock, still. Through it all.

Watching these two powerhouses hang out in a dreamy beach house, walk along the beach, go for a jog, and drive off into the sunset, it occurs to me how rare it is these days to have the pleasure of watching women over fifty who aren't from Hollywood simply be. It's an honor and a treat to watch these women in conversation, confessing sins and doubts, in awe of the brashness and confidence of days gone by, but absolutely comfortable in their own skin. I grin when they laugh. I grinned a lot.

So maybe, just maybe, if you haven't yet found the "30 For 30" that's for you, this could be the one. It's amazing stuff, watching these two in action. Go find out for yourself, and start grinning.


  1. Sorry Maggie, no cable means no ESPN for me. I did listen to an interview with the two of them though, and it is a great story.

  2. I keep forgetting these are on Tuesdays! Man, and I lost brain cells with Keeping Up with the Kardashians on last night... I have only seen the Once Brothers ones and it was great - and timely since we had just been in Croatia. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. We have that one sitting in our DVR, too! I'll have to suggest it to break up the football this weekend... We love 30 for 30 around these parts! (and Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel!) Evan probably sang IT'S ALL ABOUT THE U for 2 months after we watched the Miami one! I'm also quite partial to Run Ricky, Run.

  4. This was playing (at least I think it was) the day before the wedding and we watched it in our hotel room! We're big tennis fans, I agree, Chris and Martina rock.

  5. Trusting your impeccable taste in TV and firing up the DVR. There is still a part of me that is all, "What is the meaning of this ESPN?" I suspect I'll get over it.

  6. You are so right about the 30 for 30 series. I couldn't stop watching the one on Vlade Divac. There was also an interview with Martina and Chris in the latest Vanity Fair.


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